By Nickolai Sukharev
ROCKVILLE — With two weeks until November’s general election, the County Executive candidates faced off once again, this time in a Sunday evening debate hosted by the Friends of White Flint at the Strathmore AMP at Pike & Rose.
Focusing on the White Flint area of Rockville Pike, Democrat candidate Marc Elrich, Republican candidate Robin Ficker, and Independent candidate Nancy Floreen took swipes at each other with responses that often digressed into countywide issues, forcing moderator Amy Ginsburg to remind the candidates of the geographic scope at hand.
“I’m in this race because I think we need a better choice; I believe in infrastructure, I believe in planning, I believe in delivering to our community the economic vitality that we need to go forward,” Floreen said, opening the debate to an audience of approximately 100 people. “We have such great potential … I think we need to create a great community that offers real jobs … and respect for the business community and real opportunity for everyone to get ahead.”
Ginsburg, who serves as the executive director of the Friends of White Flint, asked questions that touched on public transportation, roads, infrastructure, and housing, with each candidate having a minute to respond.
Responding to a question on Amazon’s second headquarters, Ficker, a local activist attorney who served a term in the House of Delegates from 1979-1983, began the debate by immediately calling both of this opponents “tax increase specialists,” adding that the Seattle-based company is looking to set up its second headquarters “free from regulators” and property taxes.
Floreen, who was first elected to the County Council in 2002 to represent the county at-large, took the opportunity to say that Elrich “picked every fight known to man” while praising current County Executive Isiah Leggett for “supporting creative business solutions.”
Each of the candidates took opportunities to detail their plans for Bus Rapid Transit in the County – a system of dedicated bus lanes along Rockville Pike (MD355), Veirs Mill Road (MD586), U.S. Route 29, and the Corridor Cities Transitway.
Both Elrich and Floreen expressed support for developing a BRT system in the County, while Ficker termed it “Big Robbery Today.”
Elrich, a County Council member (at-large) since 2006, said he would fund BRT using development districts to generate revenue – an approach, Elrich said, is used in northern Virginia.
Floreen said that the County should grow the tax base to pay for transportation projects, while adding she was opposed to additional fees, saying, “The more we tax these developments, the less we get.”
Elrich, who was given a follow-up opportunity, said that the County could end up having to retrofit eventual developments with public transportation projects, without adequate transportation planning.
Ficker added that he would prefer to increase funding for WMATA’s Metrorail than fund a BRT system.
“We need to fix what we’ve got instead of building a brand-new toy that you folks aren’t going [to] ride,” he said.
On wider transportation and infrastructure issues, each of the candidates offered differing views on the Rockville Pike Corridor.
Ficker, telling the audience he stores two bikes at his law office, said he would prioritize bike paths. He added that they would encourage residents to stay physically fit, while taking a swipe at Elrich and Floreen for using a health-benefits fund to balance the county budget.
Elrich expressed support for the current White Flint sector plan, which calls for more bike lanes and pedestrian paths along Rockville Pike.
The candidates also had differing views on the County’s plans to increase housing affordability and accessibility.
Elrich said he supports plans to increase the percentage of affordable-housing units in development projects and expanding the County’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Units program – which is designed to ensure affordable housing for all income levels.
During his response to the question, Ficker presented Elrich with a pledge from Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative advocacy organization, not to raise taxes on County residents. Prior to signing, Elrich wrote in a stipulation that the pledge include only one year beginning on July 1, 2019.
Ficker did not offer the pledge to Floreen but added that both candidates declined to sign the same pledge during the Oct. 8 forum at B’nai Tzedek congregation in Potomac.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.